Make no mistake: content errors harm your brand and SEO

How to optimize for audience trust. Plus, four tips for dealing with mistakes that can kill your brand’s reputation.

Trust matters. Whether you’re creating content for a standalone brand publication or a company blog, you want people and search engines to trust the information on your website is accurate and current.

Now, with engagement metrics seemingly becoming a larger factor in SEO, you can’t have one without the other. Google won’t trust (and reward rankings to) a website that doesn’t attract and engage an audience, and visitors won’t trust (or even find) content that doesn’t rank well on Google.

Trust is how you build that audience.

For publishers, content is your product and your brand. You establish a relationship with your audience through the content you publish.

Sometimes your content will simply fail to generate the traffic, rankings, shares, and leads you were hoping for.

But something even worse could happen. For most publishers, it’s inevitable. It’s not a question of if, but when.

You could publish content that contains inaccurate information. Not just small typos or spelling mistakes – stuff that’s worthy of an apology and a correction (or even a retraction).

Will such a huge mistake be forgotten by the following day? Perhaps, especially if you’ve built a really strong brand and you don’t make any more huge mistakes.

But if your brand consistently publishes content filled with errors, will it make your core audience start to question whether your brand can be trusted? Absolutely. Your brand will look amateurish.

An image of a young women with a red headband lying with her head in the jaws of an alligator. The image has a meme-style caption, which reads: THIS WILL NOT END WELL.

People have zero tolerance for content that wastes their time.

Losing the trust of your audience will ultimately damage your brand and cause serious harm to your SEO efforts.

Optimize for your audience

You need to have a clear idea of your target audience. Who do you want visiting your site on a regular basis?

  • What are the demographics of your target audience? Age, gender, location, job title, and income level are just a few elements that might matter to you.
  • What topics are of interest to your target audience? What are their wants, needs, and pain points?
  • What’s your content goal? Why are you creating this content – will it be the best answer or solution to a question or problem your audience has?

Figure out what topics your target audience wants to read about and will engage with. Provide that content to them and speak to them in their own language.

Optimize for authority

Although author authority may have gone out of style, authority still matters to your audience. They want to know the content they’re reading or watching comes from people who know their stuff. In other words: authors who are experts in their industry or niche.

  • Do your authors have full biographies? At minimum, they need a byline, photo, and details on their career and areas of expertise. If any of these elements are missing, it raises serious questions.
  • Do you make it easy for people to find contact information for your brand? Give your audience ways to connect with you how they want, whether it’s via social media, a contact form, email, or phone.
  • Do you link to your sources? Doing so gives credit to the work that helped make yours possible, helps strengthen your argument, and can be helpful for anybody reading who might want to go deeper into that subject.

Optimize for accuracy

Your audience demands you to be accurate. When you get it wrong, you’ll hear about it – in your comments section, on social media, and (should things spiral too far out of control) on other websites.

An image from the cartoon series Archer featuring Sterling Archer, the main character, looking into the camera with a neutral expression. A meme-style caption reads: Do you want to lose your audience? Because that's how you lose your audience.

Or, even worse, you won’t hear anything at all. Traffic will just slowly erode.

Have you ever tried out a new restaurant and experienced terrible service or received the wrong order? Or both? Did you go to a review site like Yelp or TripAdvisor to give the restaurant a scathing 1-star review – or did you simply just never return to that restaurant? (Either outcome is bad for you, obviously!)

After you’ve done all the hard work of optimizing your content to get someone to visit your site, don’t greet that user a terrible content experience. Don’t let one of your worst moments be their first experience with your brand. They likely won’t be back.

  • Is your content edited well? Hire a great editor and content team or outsource your content marketing to a proven agency that will handle it for you.
  • Is your content objective? Acknowledge any biases you may have, explore multiple viewpoints whenever possible, and always try to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
  • Is your content current? Make it part of your regular routine to check old content. Update as needed.

Optimize for reputation

Building up a loyal, engaged audience or community has big benefits. Direct visitors spend far more time on your site and consume far more pages per month, according to Pew Research.

Readers who find your content valuable (because it is useful, solves a relevant problem, provides insight, shares a new discovery, or is just entertaining in some way) are also more likely to share that content, which leads to more people discovering your great work, subscribing, and sharing future content pieces, further expanding your reach.

The surest way to fail to halt any momentum or see your audience abandon you is to publish subpar content. As the old saying goes, bad news travels fast.

If a site declines in quality, for whatever reason, people will notice. If you screw up, people will talk about it.

In an era where fake news, alternative facts, gossip, and anonymous claims are reported as fact, your brand must hold itself to the highest standard. “Publish first and apologize later” is a losing model in the long-term.

Ultimately, people can love you or hate you for what your content says. But if your loyal audience loses trust in you, they simply won’t be there anymore.

4 tips for dealing with harmful content errors

Whether it’s mainstream media or an industry/niche site, editors are the last line of defense. Be ready.

1. Have a Plan

We all know the importance of having a social media crisis management plan. Do you have a plan in place should your content create a crisis?

Just as you should have a fire escape plan if the worst happens at your home, it’s better to have a content “fire” plan and not need it than to never have one. Decide who will own it. Ideally it should be one of the top editors or the trusted “face” of the publication.

After the crisis has passed, review whether your plan worked or failed. Adjust for the future (though hopefully you won’t have a repeat, right?).

2. Act Quickly

Internally, make sure everyone who needs to know what is going on is apprised of the situation.

Externally, acknowledge the problem across your digital channels and platforms. Explain what you’re doing to address or fix the error. Apologize.

Update the post or be present in the comments and on social media around discussions about your content crisis.

Aside from being combative toward upset readers or customers, appearing unresponsive is one of the worst things you can do now.

3. What Should Happen To Your Post?

When things go so wrong the only option you have is to remove/retract the post, what should you do? Generally, it comes down to three options:

  • Leave the post. Take your lumps publicly. Make sure an editor’s note or a correction appears at the top of the article. In theory, when you admit you screwed up, it will restore some level of trust. See Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” as an example of a publication that left a controversial article on its site.
  • Leave the page. But only with a correction or apology, explaining what happened. Here’s an example from Upworthy, which had to retract a post on artificial sweeteners.
  • Delete the content. Ideally, 301 redirect the page to a page on the same or a similar topic, or if that doesn’t work, to the homepage. If the information is inaccurate, you may decide to just get rid of it. You have to decide if it’s worth bringing people to a page that has zero value to you.

4. Reduce the Odds of Having a Disaster

A few quick tips to prevent some major and minor errors:

  • When in doubt about the claims made in an article, ask the writer for evidence (e.g., images/documents).
  • If still in doubt, ask for more evidence (and consider legal advice, depending on the topic).
  • Publish images as evidence (don’t just claim you “have images”), especially when there is no previously existing documentation.
  • Check names (people, places, things).
  • Check job titles.
  • Attribute ideas/quotes to original source.
  • Verify and link to useful sources.

You are what you publish

One major content error could be a fluke. Twice might be a coincidence. But after this point, clearly there’s a bad pattern. Your editorial process needs fixing.

It’s sort of like that famous scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where the Black Knight is fighting with King Arthur. You can say your content errors are “just a flesh wound,” but really your brand is being sliced to bits.

There’s a lot of pressure to provide readers with a steady dose of content that is educational, informative, inspiring, or entertaining. But that doesn’t mean you should ever lower your standards.

You are what you publish. All the SEO in the world won’t help if the content you publish compromises the health of your brand.

 

Danny Goodwin is a content strategist at Longneck & Thunderfoot, a brand publishing company. A professional editor, writer, and ghostwriter with over 10 years of experience in marketing, he has created content for SMBs and global brands alike, spanning all things search and digital. He was formerly the editor of Search Engine Watch. Follow Danny on Twitter.

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